College notes, Week 9: The rise of Kenneth Walker III as RB1 in the 2022 NFL Draft
Plus Drake London injury, Players of the Week, and Mel Kiper's big board
It was just last week that ESPN’s Mel Kiper posted his top-25 prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft, and the running backs on the list were…nowhere to be found. No running backs made the top-25, which is not that surprising, but Kiper posted his top-10 RBs in the article too:
Breece Hall led the group, followed by Isaiah Spiller, D’Vonte Price (Florida International), Pierre Strong, Jr (South Dakota State), and Kyren Williams in the top-five.
Number six is Kenneth Walker III.
Just two months ago, Kiper didn’t have Walker in his top-10 for running backs, while ASU’s Rachaad White and Ole Miss’s Jerrion Ealy were in the top-five. Kiper hasn’t changed his top-two backs since then, while Price, Strong were not in the top-10 for the position.
You wouldn’t have found Walker or Zach Charbonnet either.
Though I’ve long loved the NFL Draft (I was going to use the word “obsessed” but decided against it because it really contradicts what I’m about to say), 2021 is the first time that I’ve tracked prospects closely during the college season. Typically I pay attention to the NFL and leave the draft for when the NFL season is over, but as you already know, I didn’t want to do that this year. I’m glad that I didn’t and that I’ve forced myself to continue writing these blog posts even as I run a site about the Los Angeles Rams.
It’s allowed me to really watch the rise of players like Kenneth Walker III.
A transfer from Wake Forest — imagine Walker facing his former team in the College Football Player, a future that nobody predicted for either Wake Forest or Michigan State — Kenneth Walker III rushed for 579 yards and 13 touchdowns in only seven games in 2020. He only averaged 4.9 yards per carry and caught just three passes, but Walker’s no stranger to rushing dominance.
In his first career game on offense, he had nine carries for 125 yards.
Walker didn’t enter the season on anybody's radar but he had 23 carries for 264 yards in Week 1 vs. Northwestern. He had 172 yards in Week 3 vs. Miami. He had 233 yards in Week 7 vs. Rutgers. And most recently, Kenneth Walker had 23 carries for 197 yards and five touchdowns in a critical upset of Michigan to propel the Spartans closer to a championship playoff appearance.
Not even mentioned as a draftable prospect two months ago, I think it is fair to say that Kenneth Walker III could challenge Hall and Spiller for RB1 status in the 2022 NFL Draft because one thing that never fails an NFL resume: LOTS of production.
Walker has 175 carries for 1,194 yards with 14 touchdowns. Only Syracuse sophomore Sean Tucker has more (1,267 yards) and he has played in one more game than Walker.
Kenneth Walker continues to be a non-threat in the passing game but for the right NFL offense, they could be patient with any development there in exchange for his elite skills as a ball-carrier.
The leading rusher in 2020 was Breece Hall, another point in his favor. Just two yards shy of being second was Najee Harris, a first round pick last year.
In 2019, Chuba Hubbard led the country in rushing yards and he now plays for the Panthers. Not far behind were J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor.
In 2018, Taylor led the country, followed in second by current Rams running back Darrell Henderson.
In 2017, Rashaad Penny led the country in rushing, with Taylor again not far behind. Production and 2,000-yard seasons…it does matter. It does play a factor, even if Kenneth Walker is more like the next Donnel Pumphrey (2016’s leader) than he is Najee Harris. But he’s tackled every challenge that he’s faced this season…
And almost nobody can seem to tackle him.
Drake London out, but makes Mel Kiper’s top-5 prospects
USC wide receiver Drake London has been one of the top-ten star players of the college season, and his season is now over with a broken ankle. I would not expect an injury like that to slow down London’s draft ascent, but everyone responds differently and it is unfortunate that London is going through anything during his final year at USC other than awards season.
The best wide receiver in college football:
The rest of Kiper’s 25 Best
Kiper’s top-five is not surprising in any way: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Kyle Hamilton, Derek Stingley, London, and Evan Neal.
The next five are Aidan Hutchinson, Charles Cross, Devin Lloyd, Trevor Penning, and DeMarvin Leal.
Kiper has Jameson Williams as WR2 and 11th overall. That is surprising, but then again, it’s not.
Center Tyler Linderbaum is undersized but checks in at 12 because he’s so technically superior to other offensive linemen.
Nakobe Dean, Kingsley Enagbare, and Kenny Pickett round out the top-15.
Kenny Pickett at QB1 surprised a lot of people but who else should it be really? I don’t see how anybody could be impressed, from a pro football standpoint, with what Matt Corral is doing. There’s so much left to develop with him and Malik Willis, while Pickett could probably come in and be a “Mac Jones” right away. Corral, Willis have nothing like the upside of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, while Willis might be a Trey Lance-like project that takes a long time. If ever.
Jahan Dotson, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Garrett Wilson, Roger McCreary, Corral finish the top-20.
Chris Olave starts off the next group at 21, followed by Daniel Faalele, a tackle at Minnesota.
Treylon Burks, Kaiir Elam, and Desmond Ridder finish off the list.
Kiper had Spencer Rattler as his QB1 two months ago and today he doesn’t even have him in the QB top-10. You know what my Top-10 is, basically, but Kiper still has Phil Jurkovec at 6, while Carson Strong is seventh, Hendon Hooker at eight, Tanner McKee at nine, and Jayden Daniels at 10.
Kiper has David Bell as the 7th-best WR prospect, ahead of George Pickens, Jalen Tolbert, John Metchie, and Justyn Ross. I love Bell, I don’t know what bellse he needs to prove!
The number one tight end here is Trey McBride of Colorado State. Isaiah Likely is only ranked as TE7.
Tons of names and a top-10 for each position in this free ESPN Insider article, so thank you Mel.
Notes from an ESPN article on the AP top-25’s “X Factor” players:
X factor: Tight end Josh Whyle. For the second straight game, Whyle has been a critical component of the win, accounting for a total of four touchdowns on eight receptions. Against Tulane, Whyle caught four passes and two of them were touchdowns -- the same stat line he recorded in the 27-20 win at Navy.
X factor: Running back Kenneth Walker III only strengthened his Heisman candidacy against Michigan, rushing for 197 yards and five touchdowns in the 37-33 win. Walker now has 1,194 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns on the season.
X factor: Defensive end Tyreke Smith's return from injury is paying off, as he had a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry to help trigger Ohio State's pass rush against Penn State. Along with Zach Harrison, J.T. Tuimoloau and others, Smith is helping the Buckeyes generate more consistent pressure than they did earlier this season.
X factor: RB Byron Cardwell. With CJ Verdell out for the season, it has been Travis Dye who has largely filled the void out of the backfield for the Ducks. But on Saturday, Cardwell stepped up and ran the ball seven times for 127 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown run.
X factor: RB Kyren Williams. The sophomore back has put together his two best games of the season, rushing for a combined 340 yards and four touchdowns in wins over North Carolina and USC. He appeared to hurt his foot on Saturday and went into the medical tent, but he reemerged and kept going for a career-high 202 yards.
X factor: Abram Smith converted from reserve running back to linebacker last season but has thrived since moving back to offense in 2021. He has gained 898 yards at 7.2 yards per carry, and his fifth 100-yard performance of the season paced a 31-24 win over Texas on Saturday.
X factor: Keep an eye on the health of Matt Corral. Coach Lane Kiffin wants to protect his Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, who is playing on two injured ankles, and not run the ball so much with him, but without his top three receivers to move the chains, the Ole Miss offense needs Corral to make plays with his arm and his feet.
X factor: RB Tyler Allgeier. One of the best backs in college football the past two seasons, Allgeier turned in his best-ever performance against Virginia, running for 266 yards and a school-record five touchdowns.
X factor: Iowa's run defense remains tremendous, and Jestin Jacobs, maybe the Hawkeyes' most disruptive linebacker, is a major reason. Even with Wisconsin leaning on the run after building an early lead in Madison on Saturday, Iowa allowed only 166 rushing yards on 48 carries.
X factor: Marcus Jones. The corner/All-American kick returner has four special teams return touchdowns this year -- two on punts, two on kickoffs -- and nine for his career, including a winning 100-yarder with 17 seconds left to knock SMU from the rank of unbeatens. He added six tackles and an interception on Saturday.
X factor: RB Jordan Mims ran for a career-high 186 yards with two touchdowns to end San Diego State's unbeaten run. Over his past two games, he has totaled 320 rushing yards, 22 receiving yards and four total touchdowns.
Players of the Week
DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah had six sacks.
Lots of QBs, including Grayson McCall.
Another article about Presbyterian’s football coach.
I’ve never seen a prospect, recruiting video series like this one before.
SEC Week 9 players of the week: QB Will Rogers, RB Tyler Badie, LB Zakoby McClain, LB Nolan Smith, DL Colby Wooden, OL LaQuinston Sharp (C)
ACC players of week: QB Sam Hartman, RB Sean Tucker, WR Tre Turner, OL Zach Tom, DL Jermaine Johnson, DE Myles Murphy, LB Drake Thomas, DB James Williams.
Pac-12 Players: RB Tavion Thomas, ILB Carson Bruener (first to win freshman and defensive player of the week in same week since award started in 2019), OL Nick Ford, DL Ron Stone.
Please subscribe, tell friends, we’ll keep going!